Lawmakers passed the 2022 CHIPS Act with lofty ambitions to remake the United States into a semiconductor powerhouse, in part to reduce America’s reliance on foreign nations for the tiny chips that power everything from dishwashers to computers to cars. The law included $39 billion to fund the construction of new and expanded semiconductor facilities, and manufacturers that want a slice of the subsidies have already announced expansions across the country.
More than 50 new facility projects have been announced since the CHIPS Act was introduced, and private companies have pledged more than $210 billion in investments, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.
But that investment has run headfirst into the tightest labor market in years, with employers across the country struggling to find workers. Semiconductor manufacturers have long found it difficult to hire workers because of a lack of awareness of the industry and too few students entering relevant academic fields. Company officials say they expect it to become even more difficult to hire for a range of critical positions, including the construction workers building the plants, the technicians operating equipment and engineers designing chips.
The U.S. semiconductor industry could face a shortage of about 70,000 to 90,000 workers over the next few years, according to a Deloitte report. McKinsey has also projected a shortfall of about 300,000 engineers and 90,000 skilled technicians in the United States by 2030.
Semiconductor manufacturers have struggled to hire more employees, in part because, officials say, there are not enough skilled workers and they have to compete with big technology firms for engineers. Many students who graduate with advanced engineering degrees in the United States were born abroad, and immigration rules make it challenging to obtain visas to work in the country.